Why Is Pakistan's First Miss Universe Contestant Facing Backlash In Her Own Country?

Conservative voices have claimed that Ms Robin's participation was made without the country's consent.

Why Is Pakistan's First Miss Universe Contestant Facing Backlash In Her Own Country?

She is the first ever model from Pakistan to qualify for the global beauty pageant.

Erica Robin, the 24-year-old who won the inaugural Miss Universe Pakistan, is facing backlash and outrage ahead of her participation in the Global Miss Universe Pageant to be held in El Salvador next month, BBC reported. Notably, Ms. Robin, a Christian who hails from Karachi, was chosen as Miss Universe Pakistan among five finalists at a competition held in Maldives last month.  She competed against Hira Inam (24), Jessica Wilson (28), Malika Alvi (19), and Sabrina Wasim (26) and emerged as the winner.

''Insulting and Shameful''

However, instead of being happy over her success on a global platform, several people in her home country including politicians and religious leaders said the event was an insult to Pakistan. Conservative voices have claimed that Ms Robin's participation was made without the country's consent. 

Senator Mushtaq Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami party openly criticized her selection, labelling it as "shameful."  "Who are the organisers of this beauty pageant in Pakistan? Who is doing this shameful act?", he wrote on Twitter. 

Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar asked the country's intelligence agency to launch an investigation against the organisers and how they were able to hold the pageant without the country's approval for using its name. Mr Kakar also called the entire event a ''shameful act'' and an ''insult and exploitation of women of Pakistan'', as per The Independent. 

Questions raised over her participation

Ansar Abbasi, a Pakistani right-wing commentator and columnist raised questions over participation and wrote, ''Who allowed five Pakistani girls to represent Pakistan in Miss Universe beauty pageant? @anwaar_kakar, this decision of the cabinet or a ministerial advisor? Can anyone represent Pakistan without the permission of the Government of Pakistan?''

In response, Federal Caretaker Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Murtaza Solangi said, ''The government and the state of Pakistan are represented by the state and government institutions. Our government has not designated any non-state and non-governmental person or institution for any such activity and no such person/institution can represent the state/government. the end.''

Critics argue that she is representing a country that does not endorse beauty pageants, especially in a Muslim-majority nation. In the competition's 72-year history, Pakistan has never nominated a representative for Miss Universe. Detractors argue that Ms Robin's participation contradicts the nation's values while expressing particular discomfort with the segment where contestants traditionally wear swimsuits. 

However, Ms Robin is determined to challenge these stereotypes.

Karachi-based writer and commentator Rafay Mehmood told the BBC: "We are a nation of many contradictions and women and the marginalised trigger us the most.

"Pakistan is at large an authoritarian state and that reflects in the harsh patriarchal values it enables both institutionally and socially. Erica Robin and the policing she has faced is an extension of that."

Erica Robin's response

During the selection process, Erica Robin was asked about her aspirations for her country, and she expressed her desire to change the perception that Pakistan is a backward nation. Despite the hostility and outrage, she is undeterred, as there are also voices of congratulations from models, writers, and journalists who have hailed her as ''beauty with brains.''

"It feels great to represent Pakistan. But I don't understand where the backlash is coming from. I think it is this idea that I would be parading in a swimsuit in a room full of men," Ms Robin told the BBC.

She previously told Voice Of America that she has done nothing wrong. She added that she felt a lot of responsibility on her shoulders as she believed it would be the first time Pakistan would have a participant in the global Miss Universe pageant. "However, I won't do anything that would harm the reputation of the country," she added.

Ms Robin was born on September 14, 1999, in Karachi and she did her schooling at St Patrick's Girls High School. She then went to the Government College of Commerce and Business Administration in Chandigarh.

Ms. Robin started her professional modelling career in January 2020 and appeared in the July 2020 issue of DIVA Magazine Pakistan. She revealed in an interview that she once caught the attention of model and actor Vaneeza Ahmed, who got her into modeling.

The 72nd Miss Universe pageant has been scheduled to be held at the National Gymnasium in Sal Salvador, El Salvador on November 18, 2023.